Tuatha de Danann

Aaaaand back from another semester!  Student life can be so consuming.  Luckily, I was once again able to incorporate paganism for yet another final paper.  This time it was for my Celtic Diaspora class.  Our Pr. had us choose an identity marker of the Celts.  I chose deities and since deities lend themselves to paganism, I find this paper appropriate to share through this avenue.

Celtic Identity Marker:  Deities

I think it’s important I explain why I chose “deities” to identify the Celts.  I acknowledge that deities are often borrowed from other cultures (and I will give an example of this later) so I get that associated deities are not a surefire way of “identifying” a group of people culturally or spiritually.  However, the deities of Celtic peoples have had much of an influence on their culture, particularly what they find important or sacred.  This is most reflective in their holidays and language, I believe.  I’ll go into detail further about those two aspects as well.

First I’ll go over a select few deities that I find most definitive of Celts’ identities.  This starts with the Tuatha de Danann (“Tribe of Danu”).  This tribe is deemed a supernatural “race” of beings (1) that came to Ireland either by ships that they later set on fire or a haze of clouds for 3 days and nights, depending on who’s telling the story (2).  So it’s already affirmed that these people were not native to Ireland, which I’m sure is what helped “deify” them.  One passage says that they came on Beltane and brought magic and poetry with them (4).  Danu was their matron deity they worshiped as a mother goddess (1). She was associated with rivers, the earth, life and fertility (4).  It is interesting that Danu, herself is not necessarily considered a Celtic deity because there is no record of her corporeal arrival in the Celtic Isles.  It is just mentioned that she was honored by the Tribe.

The primary god among the Tuatha de Danann was the Dagda (“good god”).  He is described as an elder father figure to his Tribe that had a harp and a cauldron that never went empty (2).  He provided for his Tribe and also negotiated with various other peoples of Ireland to ensure their safety and protection. He is depicted as an old, sloppily-dressed man who eats like a barbarian and possesses a giant club that can restore life with its handle (1).

In regards to who is the primary goddess of the Tribe, I would have to say is Eriu.  She was Queen of Ireland at the time it (and subsequently the Tuatha de Danann) was conquered by the Milesians, a group of darker, shorter invaders who came from the sea.  Accepting defeat, she requested that the land retain her name (2).  It is her we have to thank for Ireland’s name, today!  Her name translated from Proto-Celtic means “fat, abundant”.  Not much is known of Eriu other than this legend and that she was the daughter of Ernmas, the Irish mother-goddess (3).

The secondary goddess of the Tribe would have to be Brigid (“Exalted one”) (3).  She was a daughter of the Dagda and revered for her domestic skills, poetry and knowledge.  As a goddess she is venerated for fertility, childbirth, protector of hearth and hills, and divination (1).  She is often depicted weaving a loom to tell stories.  She was later beloved by the Christians and became a Saint upon the Catholic conquest of Ireland (2).

Another prominent goddess was the Morrigan (“Phantom Queen”).  She was a goddess of sovereignty and sexuality.  She could prophecize war victories and also who would die in battle.  She’s often depicted with crows (3).

The last prominent deity of the Tuatha de Danann that I’ll explore is Lugh (“Shining One”).  He was born to Balor, a Fomorian and was therefore raised by Tailtiu a Spanish Queen (2).  He is allowed back in the Tuatha de Danann as an adult, offering his many skills in craftsmanship.  The legend says that although he initially denied re-entry because the tribe already had people with those skills, they changed their mind and decided it would be beneficial to have someone who was skilled at all those things, simultaneously (3).

To give this research some variety, I’d like to mention some other influential deities not part of the Tuatha de Danann.  The first one is Donn (“Brown”).  He was chief of the Milesians, the group that came to Ireland from Galicia and conquered the Tuatha de Danann.  He was encouraged to sail away from Ireland and the night that he attempted to do so, he drowned in a storm (2).  Posthumously he became the Dark Lord of the Dead and still haunts his resting place, Teach Duinn (2).  He is said to warn the locals of foreboding weather.

Another important deity was Belenus (“Bright, fiery”).  All research says is that he was sun god worshiped across Europe.  His influence on the Celts lead to creating the holiday, Beltane (2).

The last relevant deity is Epona (“horse”), the horse goddess .  She was venerated by Celtic knights for protection if themselves but also their horses (1).  She was also worshiped for the fertility/breeding of horses.  She is another deity whose worship was not exclusive to Celts (3).

Now that there’s some basic background information about the deities, I can go into their respective holidays.  As I touched upon before, I think it is the holidays that seem to be most-embedded in Celtic culture, even today.  They were given Celtic names and started in the Celtic Isles for Celtic reasons and I believe remnants of those philosophies are still passed down to modern Celts by celebrating them in today’s day and age.

The first holiday is Samhain (“Summer’s End”).  This marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year and the coming of winter for the Celts.  It’s celebrated now on the night of October 31 into November 1. The ancient Celts believed time stood still and laws were suspended on this night (2) and the spirits could enter the human world and vice versa.  Two large bonfires were lit on hills within communities (2) and cattle would be driven between them for purification and to protect them from disease.  Then these cattle were slaughtered for winter food and their bones were tossed into the fire.  This is where the term “bonfire” comes from (bone-fire).  How this relates to the gods involves a legend of the Tuatha de Danann engaging in battle against the Fomorians.  The Dagda and the Morrigan meet Samhain night and have sex to ensure victory against the Fomorians (3).  It is suggested this is symbolic of Dagda paying homeage to the land (represented by Morrigan) (1).  Also Donn is associated with this holiday because of his aid to the spirits entering the human world.

The next holiday is Imbolc (“In the womb”) and is celebrated on February 2.  It is a time to honor the domestic life (3).  In essence, fertility, hearth and home are the main ideas of this holiday and it’s also associated with lactation of ewes for lambing season.  Brigid is venerated during this holiday since she very much embodies these qualities (1).  This is a time to light candles, tell poetic stories, divine the future and eat eggs and butter.  Milk is sometimes poured on the ground to encourage fertility (3).  Brigid is associated with “high” things on this day (hence her name “exalted one”) such as tall fires, learning and mountains (1).

Another holiday to keep the wheel of the year turning is Beltane (“Bright fire”) who some scholars debate may have been named after Belenus.  It takes place on May 1 and is considered the first day of summer in Ireland (1).  Since the summer means more sunlight, Belenus seems very appropriate to be associated with this holiday, being a sun god.  Like most of the Celtic holidays, Beltane is a time to celebrate fertility.  In fact fertility takes center stage for this day more than any other holiday.  Since it is on the opposite end of the year from Samhain, a time of death, Beltane is very much a time of life.  Flowers are usually in bloom during this time of year so they are used to decorate pretty much everything.  Lots of sex is encouraged to enact fertility and many couples enter marriage on this day.  There is a Maypole for this day that involves a large pole (a very phallic symbol) decorated with ribbons and flowers that is penetrated into the earth, so as to inseminate it.  After the insertion, dancing around the pole with the ribbons is another fertility rite that happens.  

The last holiday important to the deities is Lughnasadh (“Assembly of Lugh”).  This holiday was started by Lugh, himself and is celebrated August 1.  There is a debate of whether he started it to remember his mother or to celebrate his wedding.  The traditions attached to this holiday seem more relevant to the death of his foster mother, Tailtiu.  She died of exhaustion after harvesting all the corn in Ireland.  Lughnasadh is considered a harvest so trinkets made from corn and wheat are customary (3).  The “Assembly” would always climb up a hill to hold the Lughnasadh festivities which usually involve athletic games (2).  Modern Celts still make this trek up hills on this day.

I find it interesting that these holidays are equidistant from each other.  I believe they are strongly tied to pre-Christian agricultural holidays and I’m disappointed to say I haven’t found a link between that aspect and the attached deities…because the Tuatha de Danann did not know how to farm when they came to Ireland (1)!  What would they care so much about fertility if they didn’t even use it?  I suspect these holidays were already in fashion before the Tuatha de Danann showed up, then they inserted themselves in these celebrations as a way to assert authority over the Celtic peoples, like how the Romans added Christian elements to the pagan holidays for easier conversion.  

That brings up a few questions as to where these deities came from?  With the exception of Epona, all of the deities I explored are not native to the Celtic Isles.  All of the legends indicate this.  We already know Donn was a Milesian, a Galician tribe.  Lughnasadh was born in Ireland but he not of native Celtic descent.  I think the Tuatha de Danann, in particular, were Viking raiders from Scandinavia.  One of the more superficial reasons is because of their physical description.  They are said to be taller and have lighter hair and eyes than the Irish natives.  However, they are not taller than the Fomorians, which were considered giants from the sea, also not native to Ireland (2).

Another more telling reason is I find some similarities between the Tuatha de Danann and the Aesir and Vanir of the Elder Edda.  Without going into too much detail, the Elder Edda is collection poems recorded in Iceland in the 13th century that tell legends of the Aesir (“Gods”) and Vanir (“Friends of the Gods”) and what happened to them at the end of the world.   I find links between Odin and the Dagda, Freyja and the Morrigan, Loki & Freyr and Lugh, Brigid and Frigg.  Odin and the Dagda are both considered father figures (Odin sometimes referred to as “All-father”).  Brigid and Frigg are both highly revered for their domestic qualities and seen as model wives.  The Morrigan’s relation to crows makes me think of the winged Valkyries of the Edda. Also, she and Freyja are both associated with fallen soldiers and sexuality.  Lastly, I feel as though Lugh is a consolidation of Loki and Freyr.  He’s described as young and fair-haired like Freyr but also a bit of a misfit (due to his status as a half-breed) and very clever like Loki.

The very name “Tuatha de Danann” shows signs of Scandinavian origin.  Danu was also the name of a mother-goddess worshiped by Nordic peoples.  Scandinavia was one of the last places in Europe to practice agriculture, due to it being so cold.  This would explain why the Tuatha de Danann did not know how to farm when arriving in Ireland.  The “Prophecy of the Seeress” poem from the Elder Edda predicts the end of the world with Thor obtaining ships for the Aesir and Vanir to escape the natural disasters (talk of large fires and flood swallowing the land) (5).  This might be why the Tuatha de Danann came to Ireland by boat/a cloud of rolling smoke (2).  Perhaps they were escaping the devastation of what was going down in Scandinavia.

My final point for seeing links between Nordic and Celtic deities is the folk art.  As I mentioned in class, being Scandinavian and Celtic has given me the advantage of being semi-immersed in both cultures and I’ve noticed much similarity between the styles of art.  For example, the Triquetra of Celtic culture is similar in structure to the Valknut of Nordic culture.  Also, the Celtic knots look almost exactly like the Nordic knots.  The only really aesthetic difference between Celtic & Scandinavian folk art is Scandinavian art is more geometric and  Celt is more curvy/fluid.  We all learned in high school history classes that Vikings did in fact settle in the Celtic Isles and leave an influence in the Celts’ modern culture, so the folk art isn’t necessarily a big surprise.  I’m just saying the same influence of the Vikings on Celtic folk-art could be applied to deities, as well.

Irish Triquetra
Irish Triquetra
Scandinavian Valknut
Scandinavian Valknut

Works Cited

  1. Aldhouse-Green, Miranda J. Celtic Myths. Austin: U of Texas, 1993. Print.
  2. Keating, Geoffrey. The General History of Ireland Containing I.A Full and Impartial Account of the First Inhabitants of That Kingdom ; … VI. A Relation of the Long and Bloody Wars of the Irish against the Danes … Collected by the Learned Jeoffry Keating … Faithfully Translated from the Original Irish … by Dermo’d O Connor .. London: Printed by J. Bettenham, for B. Creake, 1723. Corpus of Electronic Texts. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. <http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T100054/index.html>.
  3. Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. “Chieftain Gods of Ireland.” Gods and Heroes of the Celts. Blackrock: Four Courts, 1994. N. pag. Print.
  4. Squire, Charles. Celtic Myths and Legends .. New Jersey: Printed by Gramercy Books, for Random House Value Publishing, 1994.
  5. Poetic Edda. (translated by) Hollander, Lee M., 196

Higher on Heroine

Continuing with the archetypes, I’m adding what some fellow members of my women’s group have chosen for their heroines.

From Nic:

First heroine: “Missy” D., one of the first people I came to know that I would ever be content if I grew up to be like them. She is both a friend and role model. Ms. D. is a high-school arboriculture teacher and industry pioneer, she is among the first female career climbers, and an amazing kindhearted human being. She is unable to safely carry children of her own, but in place of them she is a second mom to countless high school students and took in and raised her sister’s children when they needed her. She comes from a rough childhood, and has raised herself to great heights. Both open minded and hearted, her guidance and acceptance help many young people decide what kind of people it they want to be with every fiber of her being, with the aid of simple motivational quotes posters across her classroom to sharing of her story and enthusiasm.  Gotta share my love for the her.  Who is all of five foot nothing by way, and can lift a man three times her size…. Fun times 😛

Second heroine:  Jo from Little Women. She refused to be boxed in by society’s standards for women, excelling in writing and being “boyish”. Instead of conforming Jo quietly went about being her own person, taking care of her sisters and friends in her own way: anonymously writing stories for a newspaper, cutting off her hair and selling it; playing the man in all of the sisters’ home shows; being blunt and unabashed; not afraid of a little dirt. Jo exemplifies what it means to just be yourself, even down to owning up to her flaws (a temper in her case). She just simply was. She didn’t go about making a show, she just was herself in all her glory every moment regardless of what others might say or think.

Winona Ryder as Jo from Little Women
Winona Ryder as Jo from Little Women

From Tiff:

My first choice for my archetype/hero is Ororo Munroe better known as Storm the mutant who can control all types of weather (and fly) from Marvel X-Men comic books which is not to be confused with the X-Men movie character Storm which in my opinion is an entirely different character. I started reading books and comics from a very young age and Storm was the first character that I could identify with as a black female.

For those of you who don’t know the character here is a quick backstory she was born to an American man and an African woman. While living in Africa with her parents her home was bombed and her family was buried under the rubble. Both her parents died but five year old Storm survived but experienced horrible claustrophobia due to the traumatic experience. Storm did not have her mutant powers yet and became a thief to survive. Fast forward a bit and Storm is being worshiped as a goddess in Africa due to her mutant ability to control the weather. After that she is contacted by Charles Xavier to join the X-men where she would eventually become one of their leaders. Storm has been a pickpocket/thief, Goddess, leader of the X-men (several times), leader of the Morlocks, a Goddess of Thunder, co-leader of X-force, a teacher, and the list goes on.

Storm is a very strong and noble woman who believes in protecting her friends and family. Her powers are quite formidable but she must always pay attention to her emotions because they can directly affect the weather. Storm is not someone who relies on her mutant power to win her battles. In fact one time she won a battle for leadership of the X-Men after her mutant powers were taken away from her. She is a true warrior in both body and mind but also someone who is gentle and kind. In the comics her bedroom looks more like it is a greenhouse. I think that is one of the reason I really loved her as a child. She was so strong to be able to defeat all these big bad male characters and yet she was like a nature spirit and would have chosen not to fight if she did not have to.

I chose Storm because she is an amazing, intelligent, and beautiful black woman. She does not hide her emotions because she has to be more honest with herself and others with her emotions. Otherwise her true feelings would show in the skies above her. She is a strong yet vulnerable character as she still suffers from claustrophobia but she does not let it stop her or define her. The picture I have chosen to go along with this shows some of the many different costumes that Storm has worn over the years.

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High on Heroine

This past Rites of Spring I joined a women’s group that I’m very excited about!  Without giving away too much, I’ll just say we were asked to pick 3 heroine/archetype figures and give our reasons why.  I thought it would be fun to share what mine were.

I chose Bayonetta for my first archetype. For those of you who don’t know, Bayonetta is the title character from a video game. She’s a witch who kills angels during her quest to regain her memories. Her dialogues showcase her clever, sexually-driven innuendos and she is very graceful, like a flying dancer, when she mutilates the enemies. Although not exactly a “heroine”, she is not necessarily a villain, either. She picks no side so she’s not afraid to be selfish, but finds time to occasionally save innocent lives. So why did I pick her? Well, besides all of the above, I would say mainly because I strongly identify with her as a feminine, cis-gender female. She has hardly any fear and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what people think of her. She is a very powerful, femme woman who wears her heart on her sleeve and embraces her sexuality by having fun with it. Despite having all of this supernatural power, she still enjoys simple, carnal pleasures and very comfortably shifts from the hell and heaven realms to the earth realm. She’s a hybrid of a metaphysical being and an earthly being. Bayonetta is truly a sexy–WITCH!
Please enjoy this artist’s rendering of Bayonetta summoning a demon through her hair.  ^_^

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My second archetype was a little harder to choose, but I went with Artemis. I’m sure you probably already know who that is but, just in case you don’t, I’ll provide a brief background. Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wild, virginity and (ironically) childbirth. Her Roman name is Diana. She lends her name to a branch of female-centered paganism known as Dianic Wicca. She’s often depicted with a bow and arrow and accompanied by a deer, which is considered sacred to her. Not one to be outdone, she has a habit of killing people who brag about being better than her or her relatives. She is very protective of her hunting companions (usually female) and is considered a guardian deity for all women in times of needed protection. I chose Artemis largely because she has almost nothing to do with men. Other than having a twin brother, Apollo, fellow hunting deity, and the occasional male hunting companion, the only other associations she has with men is when she’s fighting them off as they try to “lay with” her (trying to keep it PG) or her female hunting friends. To me, she’s a symbol of a woman never touched or conquered by a man, though many have tried. Despite her own virginity and preferring her female friends to remain as such, she does help women during childbirth to ease their labor pains. This shows that regardless of her own sexual choices and beliefs, she is still on the side of women and does not scorn them for choosing to fulfill their procreative function. Artemis is the purest original feminist icon and a genuine threat to the patriarchy by rejecting it completely. She has no need and little desire for men and even provides for herself by hunting, usually a skill taken up by men. And finally, I’m a Sagittarius with a brother very close to my age…So I think it’s cool that she’s an archer and has a twin brother, kinda like me.  😉
I found this picture on DeviantArt. This is the most accurate representation of how I envision Artemis/Diana with her faithful deer.

Artemis

For my final heroine archetype I chose the little mermaid. Yes, there a bunch of reasons why she could be construed as lovesick and changed herself for a man and got royally screwed over because of it (in the original version, anyway). But…for some reason, I don’t think that makes her a weakling. In both the fairytale and the Disney movie, she rescued the man, sacrificed a lot and went through hell to be with him. Isn’t it usually the other way around in many stories? The little mermaid was a dreamer, a doer and after everything, still not bitter about what happened to her. The reason I picked her is because she symbolizes something much more socially acceptable (and unfortunately, often exploited) in women: Vulnerability. I think this is a real power in women. We become stronger by owning our vulnerability. It’s in everything surrounding femininity! The way we dance, the way we talk, the way we stand, dress, sing, write, eat! Yes, this is a sweeping generalization as not all men and women are a certain way, however, on the other hand vulnerability does not necessarily mean weakness. It just means open and susceptible. It means no weapons, no armor, no wall, no guard, no judgment, no dominance–just naked! Emotionally, physically and verbally. Vulnerability is what the little mermaid was made of. She had no judgment, no guard up, no preconceived notions, no suit of armor or mighty swords, not even a damn condom; hell she made herself even MORE vulnerable by leaving a world she knew nothing about and being given tools she didn’t know how to use (legs) in exchange for a tool that she wielded very well (her voice) just to be with someone she loved! Maybe this prince gave her a sense of purpose besides swimmin’ with the fishies all day, I don’t know. I don’t think the point is WHY she did what she did but that SHE WAS BRAVE ENOUGH TO DO IT! She went through a lot just to make someone happy…and by making them happy, she would make herself happy. She was giving. She was empathetic and there is a lot of power in that.
Below is a side-by-side of Ariel from the Disney film, and the statue of the fairy tale character in Denmark (home of the author). And yes—Disney did that on purpose as tribute to the statue.

Pictures

Wiccan Reads: The Serpent & the Rainbow

serpent & the rainbow

Wade Davis is an “ethno-botanist” who earned his degree from Harvard.  He’s recruited by some very bright minds to travel to Haiti for research on the Haitian zombi.  They inform Wade that due to the investigation of a Haitian zombification victim, Clairvius Narcisse, they’ve come to understand that the zombis are created with a poison that brings them to the brink of death.  There is also an anti-dote that revives them but leaves them stripped of any free will.  The scientists compare it to a form of artificial hibernation and want to use the poison and anti-dote as an alternative to anesthesia.  The term “artificial hibernation” reminds me of an article I read about a village in Vermont that was rumored to have frozen the sick and elderly during the winter.  Anyone who could not work was given a substance that rendered them unconscious and stored in boxes in a shed on their families’ properties.  When the spring arrived, the women would pour a mixture involving Hemlock (which is a poison…go figure) onto the bodies to melt the ice and the people would slowly twitch back to life and wake up…

When Wade arrives in Haiti, he attends a voudou ceremony held by Max Beauvoir, a very rich Haitian who holds these ceremonies every night, always open to the public.  Max’s daughter, Rachel, becomes possessed by 1 of the loa (deities of the voudoun faith) during the ceremony and puts flaming hot coals in her mouth, flying around the fire and screeching all in rhythm with the drums.  When she is no longer “mounted” Rachel is unharmed by the coals that were in her mouth.  She explains to Wade that the loa eat fire and nothing can hurt them because they are of God.  Wade is at a loss of words first at how the people of Haiti can become possessed so easily and second how Rachel was able to hold the burning embers in her mouth without showing any signs of pain or burning herself.

Wade and Rachel travel all over Haiti, interviewing people involved with the Clairvius Narcisse case and other similar cases of zombification.  Through Clairvius’ own sister, the pair learn that Clairvius was not very well-liked by the population.  He fathered many illegitimate children without supporting any of them and refused a loan to his brother which caused a dispute between the 2 of them over the land they had inherited from their father.  Because Clairvius only looked out for himself he was able to live luxuriously (or luxurious by Haitian standards…I guess tin roofs were a big deal.)  According to Clairvius, himself, he remembers being pronounced dead at the hospital, although unable to communicate or move at all and he remembers being buried later to be dug up, beaten  (The zombie is beaten after being dug up because they are known to be very violent once they’re awakened.  Wade determines this may be from the toad venom of the poison.  The venom is similar to a drug given to the berserkers before a battle, making them raging beasts with immense strength.), bound, and taken to a master where he was forced to work on the master’s plantation with other zombi/slaves.  He could not fight back.  He only did as he was told.  He and the others worked on the plantation until 1 of the other zombis somehow regained his free will and killed the master.  Clairvius was 1 of the few survivors as most of the other slaves died from a lack of oxygen while being buried alive…Another case was the zombification of a woman known as Ti Femme.  She was known for being rude and sheisty, always trying to sell her items in the market for way more than what they were actually worth.  She fought with a lot of people because of her attitude and greedy nature.

Rachel and Wade eventually meet up with an infamous bokor (professional black-magic sorcerer), Marcel Pierre.  They join him on a grave-robbing and a secluded ceremony held out in the Haitian wild.  Marcel’s reputation is not a great 1.  He is not respected because of what he does for a living.  Wade comes to understand that he is tolerated, however, because there is a need for him.  Marcel’s specialty is the zombi powders he mixes.  This is usually comprised of human/animal bones, toad venom and puffer-fish venom.

Wade goes into the notoriety of puffer-fish as a delicacy in Japan.  Just a tiny droplet of the stuff in a person’s blood stream is enough to kill them.  The Japanese enjoy puffer-fish  because of the inebriation they experience while eating it.  It has to be prepared very carefully so as not to kill the person eating it.  The wealthy and elite of Japan pay large sums to have their chefs include more than the legal amount of venom in the meal.  A famous Japanese actor died from this practice.

With this being said, Wade presents two facets of drug use;  When someone ingests poisonous mushrooms for the intoxicating effects, the experience is usually enjoyable (provided not too much of the toxin has been consumed).  When a person accidentally eats a poison mushroom they get very sick and are immediately rushed to hospital.  Wade then implies that the “drug” or poison being used for zombification could be a mind-over-matter situation.  Since voudou and zombis are ingrained into the Haitian society and the people grow up believing in zombis and are socially conditioned since birth to fear becoming a zombi, the idea is made into a reality.  Or simply put “if you believe in it, it is real”.  He also notes that European witches would go into trances that gave the sensation that they were flying with the aid of psychoactive substances.  These substances were usually administered intravaginally with a wooden rod such as a broomstick.  This gives way to the metaphor of a witch flying on a broom.

This argument then leads to how limitless the possibilities of the human brain are.  Wade goes into detail describing how humans as recently as 400 years ago could see the stars and planets very easily even in the daylight.  Sailors used them to navigate their ships while people on land used them to tell time and the changing of the seasons.  Nothing comes without sacrifice, however.  Because we now use automobiles for transportation, we’ve lost the ability to see the stars and planets so easily in order to operate these vehicles, which requires a whole different set of skills and mental complexities…I’d like to take a second to see where he was going with this.  Haitians are in a different world than we are.  The loa are very real to them and possession (or trances, if you prefer) come so naturally for them.  This makes me wonder what other capabilities we had to sacrifice in order to function how we do today.  I read somewhere that the human brain gave up a lot of other functions in order to use language…What else have we lost?  Being pagan I’ve been taught that your inner eye is like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to get stronger.  Judging by the experiences of the Haitians, I’m rather confident that we all had stronger inner eyes at some point in history, but at what cost?  I’m slowly learning the subtle messages of fairytales and supernatural movies and novels…Everything has a price.  Magic, spiritual awareness, mystical power, whatever you want to call it does not come without a loss of something else.  It’s not the answer to everything.  We can have it all, but not all at once.  Why?… Because there’s a balance.  You must give up something in exchange for something else, because you will have too much.

During his time spent researching the substances used in zombification, Wade studies the history of Haiti and reveals that the poisoning traces back very far.  The French colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) was particularly brutal to its slaves.  If they put so much as a toe out of line, they were faced with cruel punishments such as being nailed to a post by their ear or raped or burned alive.  Eventually the slaves started escaping and forming secret societies over the hills of the plantations.  That’s when the deaths started.  The French were dropping like flies because their food was contaminated with poison.  Even their well-water became unsafe to drink and these poisoning went on for quite a few years.  The French tried to fight back by killing thousands of slaves and even discovering and destroying the secret societies.  It didn’t work.  The poison was still taking its victims until the French were clearly outnumbered and the Haitian revolution was in motion.

These societies still exist in Haiti today.  The Haitian government works with these societies and have special officers that keep track of the events of the societies.  These officers know of all the rituals, ceremonies and trials and have never intervened.  The societies serve their own form of justice and act as a spiritual jury to those who have done wrong by their members.  Wade and Rachel are invited to a ceremony of the Bizango society and while attending they learn that Clairvius’ brother “sold” him to the society for his selfish ways.  The society “judged” Clairvius and he was deemed guilty which lead to his zombification.  If a member of a society has been mistreated, they can turn to their leaders to seek retribution.  The accused is judged by having been unknowingly given the poison (usually sprinkled in the shape of a cross on their door step and absorbed through their feet) and the voudoun ceremony captures the accused’s “ti bon ange” or spirit.  The ti bon ange is what makes up a person’s will, character and personality.  The lack of a ti bon ange is what makes someone a zombi.  There are 7 misconducts that justify someone becoming a zombi.  Clairvius and Ti Femme had broken many of them and Wade comes to the conclusion that the 2 were not innocent victims but guilty and sentenced by the loa.

I like how in-depth this book was.  Even what I wrote is just the gist of the whole experience and you will have to read it to fully understand the complexities of Voudou and Haitian culture.  I’ve never been to Haiti, but I feel like I need to go there after reading about it.  I learned a lot of history, mythology and politics of a country I had initially known very little about.  The Serpent and the Rainbow has been highly criticized for its inaccurate scientific claims, so I guess take it with a grain of salt.  I’m no scientist, so he could have completely made everything up and I’d be none the wiser.  My real education from reading this was of the anthropological side.  I got a good religious study out of it.  It went much deeper than anything I had ever read in a text book about the subject, which is not much.  The way Davis discussed the difference between the American school of thought vs. the Voudoun  and how it affects the 2 cultures gave me that familiar sense that only a fellow pagan would understand.  Voudou, after all, is a branch of paganism.

Wiccan Reads: Essential Asatru

essential asatru

Asatru means “loyal to the gods” in Old Germanic. It’s the old pagan religion of Scandinavia and the Germanic region. Diana starts by explaining the great migration periods from Asia to Northern Europe and the first section of the book is largely a history lesson of that. She mentions that because there was an abundance of natural resources in the Scandinavian region, the introduction of agriculture was delayed. Once agriculture did appear, the people had to maintain a working relationship with the local spirits of the land. These spirits are known as the “land-wights” and dwell in every rock, crag, waterfall and tree. Diana brings up an interesting point by comparing this idea to the “kami” of the Japanese landscape. She tells us that the Danube River is named after “Danu”, the life-giving moisture-mother whose name provided the root word that evolved to “humanity”.
Getting much further into the book, the author sums up that the giants of Nordic mythology are the spirits (land-wights) of the earth. I’m glad she says this because I didn’t understand why there are frost giants versus fire giants, etc. Even one Scandinavian government (I forget which one) will build roads around certain rocks that trolls are known to dwell in. After the San Francisco Bridge was destroyed in an earthquake, the workers built an iron troll into one of the new support beams to keep it from breaking, again. During the Christian conversion, anyone that was still a follower of the old ways or who practiced magic was considered “troll-wise”.

When the author starts to discuss the various gods and goddesses of Asatru, it is conveyed that the gods/goddesses act as a buffer between the giants and the humans. So I guess, when we’re praying to the gods, we’re really going through a middle-man…Perhaps this ties in with Paxson stating that we approach the Norse gods as allies, not as their servants. The fact that there are many deities to call upon for 1 reason is because (at least I think) the gods and goddesses are men and women who were alive in the human sense but immortalized because of their distinctive qualities. The author writes that the early royal families of England could trace their blood back to Wodan (or Odin, the “Allfather” or “king” of the Norse gods) or Yngvi, a king of early Sweden (now known as Freyr, the god of fertility and sovereignty). Freyja, Freyr’s twin sister, is the goddess of sexuality and magic. Diana mentions a theory that she is the source of early English traditional witchcraft.

As far as magic goes, the author informs us that it is not a major part of Asatru. Back in the old days, the Germanic pagans had people that practiced magic because they had a talent for it and offered their services to the village. It was a profession like blacksmithing or farming. The common form of magic used in Asatru is called “seidhr-magic” which Diana describes as “mind-magic” or “folk-magic and trances”.

Asatru has a strong emphasis on ancestry and believes that spirits are reincarnated through family-lines. Ancestors are reborn later on through their descendants. However, the religion is not exclusive to those of Germanic descent. Anyone can be part of it…There are other aspects of the religion covered in Diana’s book, but I feel they secondary to the points I have made in this review. This religion has a deeper meaning to me because I’m of Germanic/Scandinavian descent. I feel a part of something that encourages pride in my heritage. It’s not meant to exclude others or make those not of Germanic origin feel left out…but I definitely feel closer to this than I ever will of Voudou, for example. That religion was never part of my ancestors’ culture. I think everyone should have pride in their heritage and those who feel a connection to Voudou because it was the way of their ancestors have every inclination to feel that way. They’ll get something out of it that I, unfortunately, never will…but that’s OK. Maybe I’m not meant to.

Wiccan Reads: Cunningham’s Book of Shadows

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This will be a rather short review since I finished this book quite fast.  It was a much quicker read than expected, given how many pages are in the book.  I admit I skimmed over about 1/3 of the material as most of it is a reference guide.  The editors made a note stating they had taken excerpts from Scott’s other books and inserted them into the manuscript.

If anything, I’d say this book is really a scrap book of Scott’s other reference books.  There is no wrong way to write a Book of Shadows, since it’s one’s own.  He probably started off with his grimoire then delved deeper into each subject by writing a separate book for each.  That in mind, there’s not really any subject matter to summarize.  My recommendation is to read this Book of Shadows, then if you want to learn more about a particular aspect, read Scott’s more in-depth work on the subject.  Trust me.  He’ll have written one on anything he mentions in his grimoire.  Runes, herbs, spells, divination, rituals, etc.

This book is good for die-hard Cunningham fans and maybe those that are new to the craft.  I haven’t read too much by Mr. Cunningham so a lot of this information was new to me.  It felt more poetic and personal than his other works…Like a more uninhibited culmination of Scott rather than his polite, formal, stick-to-the-subject books.

Despite what I said about not summarizing anything, I will end the review on this little tidbit:

Petitioning to the gods & goddesses involves indicating your desire on paper, placing the appropriate herb in the paper, wrapping it up, and throwing it into a fire.

Wiccan Reads: Divination for Beginners by Scott Cunningham

div for beginners

The author starts by saying nature is not “out there” but part of us as we are of it.  That sets the tone for the whole book.  If you don’t understand that divination is natural and not a “gift” then everything else will fall into place.  If not, then this book will do nothing for you.

That being said, Cunningham then describes the term “natural divination”.  It’s the observation of occurrences in the natural world.  He also discusses that casual observations of omens are not true divination.  A request for information must precede an (provoked) omen.  Astrology originated in Mesopotamia as a form of omen observation

Cunningham then goes over different types of divination throughout the world in history.  The ancient Germanics (pre-viking) relied heavily on divination, especially from females.  Some Asian philosophies view time as an illusion or a tool to organize our lives but it doesn’t really exist.  “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”—Albert Einstein

The next section of the book deals with divination via the 4 elements.  I like that he included this for people that work with the elements.  Apparently, wells were considered sacred with spirits or attendant deities and are very potent divinatory tools.  I never would have guessed that, because wells are man-made.  I suppose it would be silly of me to assume something inanimate is not “divine”, for lack of a better term.  It’s just hard to grasp.  I suppose the water in the well is what I find more relatable as a divination tool.  Cunningham states that herbs are the most accurate element in divination ‘cause they were once alive…Heavy, huh?  I would mention air and fire here, but in short, if it goes to the left the answer’s no, to the right, the answer’s yes…And that’s about it.

While discussing the different methods of divination, he gives us an interesting piece of trivia.  The word “lottery” derives from casting lots.  The most fascinating method (I think) is the use of crystal ball gazing.  The author writes that diviners used to hold the crystals up to the sun and then gaze at them.  This makes me think of Tiresias, the blind prophet.  I’m guessing seers had a tendency to become blind because of this practice.  Cunningham is very adamant about the fact that the crystal is responsible for producing the images one sees and not the mind.  He recommends to be sure of no noises disturbing you while using the crystal and don’t concentrate.  Supposedly the crystal will turn milky-white, then black before you see images.  He says crystal-ball-gazing is one of the most evocative and truthful forms of divination.  I now have one, and I will get the chance to use it, very soon.  When that happens I will post my results.

We move on to explore mirrors and he warns us not to underestimate their power…I’m not going to dispute that fact.  I’m quite terrified of them and I think there was a reason why people used to cover them back in the day.  What is seen cannot be unseen.  Anyway, he says that a round frame is used for metaphysical divination, whereas a square one is for physical divination (I’m thinking that’s simply scrying).  I like that he notes that lakes were the first mirrors and until the last century or so, people were not very aware of what they looked like.  They only had semi-reflective surface, depictions, and other people’s descriptions to rely on.  I find that ironic, how we are more aware of what we look like, now, yet it’s becoming more and more irrelevant.  Our ancestors seemed like they were much more in touch with their bodies than we are now and they weren’t even as visually aware of them…

Speaking of bodies, the author goes over palm-reading a bit.  He mentions 6 different types of hands and what they say about a person.  But that’s just the beginning.  He says palm-reading is so complex that most students who study it end up giving up on it because there’s so much to know.

Moving on to pendulums, Cunningham says they’re rather effective.  Mostly they’re used to find things but they can be used to answer questions as well.  I find that I end up influencing the pendulum too much and just make it swing whatever direction I want.  For me, they’re a good tool for practicing energy-directing.  Finally, he mentions sand divination which means you hold a pencil in some sand and let it move wherever it wants.  This sounds similar to automatic writing…or maybe even a spirit board.

At the end of the day, this book is a good survey of all the forms of divination ever used.  It’s definitely for beginners because it is just a sampling.  It gives a good history of divination and why it was used, what methods were used for what.  It’s written in typical Cunningham style almost like a collection of folk stories.  Each section of information could stand alone as its own article but still flows like a scrap book of the cohesive subject.  I’m noticing Cunningham is good at providing the basics of things for those new to the craft.  This book is definitely in that same category.